5 Freaky Wax Museums

Wax figures of Freddy and Jason
Photo: jondoeforty1 [CC by SA-2.0]/Flickr

Wax museums, both mom-and-pop businesses and corporate behemoths, have long relied on gruesome dioramas to complement their inherent creepiness. Just in time for Halloween, we’ve wrangled up five of the most demented waxworks from across the globe, ranging from the joyously campy to the completely unsettling. Here's a sampling of wax museums where you really don’t want to get locked in overnight.

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Madame Tussauds, London

Mario Sánchez Prada/Flickr.

The undisputed grand dame of wax museums, Madame Tussauds in Regent’s Park, London, is the uncannily real-looking deal. Founded in the 1830s by French wax sculptress Marie Tussaud, Madame Tussauds has persevered through fire, war, earthquakes and the many reincarnations of pop superstar Kylie Minogue.

The concept of displaying decidedly more grisly waxworks in a segregated area originated at Madame Tussauds with a “separate room” dedicated to portraying the horrors of the French Revolution, along with replicas of famous murderers and criminals of the era. (This display shows Tussaud herself, searching for the guillotined head of Marie Antoinette.) Now rebranded as SCREAM!, live costumed actors have mostly replaced the wax figures in recent years. This is somewhat of a shame considering that Madame Tussauds is where the time-honored tradition of scaring the pants off of people via lifelike sculptures being subjected to various forms of torture began.

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Hollywood Wax Museum, Hollywood, Calif.

Photo: Rick Samuelson [CC by 2.0]/Flickr

While the wax monsters and murder victims were evicted long ago from Madame Tussauds’ London location, the Hollywood Wax Museum, a decades-old Hollywood Boulevard institution of questionable quality has mercifully managed to keep live actors out of its extensive Chambers of Horrors.

Billing itself as the longest-running wax museum in the United States — still family-run, the museum opened its doors in 1965 — the Hollywood Wax Museum is unabashedly focused on Tinseltown luminaries. Thus this museum’s Chamber of Horrors is all about movie monsters both classic like Frankenstein, Dracula and the Phantom of the Opera, and contemporary like Jason Voorhees (shown here), Freddy Krueger and Leatherface. Plus, on display you’ll find the waxy replica of a lovely lady that you most certainly won’t find at Madame Tussauds: the multi-talented Elvira, Mistress of the Dark!

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House of Frankenstein Wax Museum, Lake George, N.Y.

Gabrielle Cyr/Flickr.

As its name relays, the long-running House of Frankenstein Wax Museum is a strictly monsters, murder and mayhem type of affair with nary a boy band or member of the British royal family in sight. Home to more than 50 macabre displays of varying gruesomeness — “more torture tableaus than you can shake a stick studded with impaled heads at ...” enthusiastically exclaims Roadside America — set along a labyrinth of darkened passageways, this one isn’t for young kids, the claustrophobic or those with delicate constitutions. We also personally recommend visiting the House of Frankenstein on an empty stomach and not necessarily because the displays. Rather, there’s a little surprise at the end — vertigo tunnel, anyone? — that could potentially lead to a gnarly spot of nausea. No refunds.

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Criminals Hall of Fame Wax Museum, Niagara Falls, Ontario

Criminals Hall of Fame Wax Museum/Facebook.

You can’t swing the disembodied arm of Queen Elizabeth II in binational tourist bonanza Niagara Falls without hitting a wax museum. The place, on both the New York and Ontario sides, is lousy with them. However, there is one waxworks that manages to stand out from the creepily inanimate pack: a beloved 36-year-old institution featuring the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy.

The Criminal Hall of Fame Wax Museum features over 40 wax replicas of history’s most notorious serial killers, gangsters, outlaws, psychopaths, cult leaders, cinematic unsavories, bank robbers and deranged Hungarian countesses all immortalized in their “real habitats.” New additions include notorious Wisconsin corpse-snatcher Ed Gein and prolific mafia hit man Richard “Iceman” Kuklinski. (Adolf Hitler, who was stolen/broke free from his display case in 1999, has since been replaced).

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Salem Wax Museum of Witches and Seafarers, Salem, Mass.

adunt/Flickr.

Open year-round and focused on Salem’s rich maritime history and, of course, the black magic hysteria that struck the town in 1692, the Salem Wax Museum of Witches and Seafarers lets its spook flag fly strong in October with the addition of the Haunted Witch Village and Frankenstein’s Castle, a “haunted attraction inspired by the classic period of literary horror” located in the “lower dungeon” of the museum.

As for the abysmally reviewed museum proper, it features London-made wax effigies depicting the usual suspects — long-haired dudes in frilly blouses and tricorne hats, bonneted ladies dangling from nooses, Nathaniel Hawthorne, et al. — and a ginormous gift shoppe hawking pentagram shot glasses and “Witch City” ashtrays.